Barbara Carroll: How Long Has This Been Going On?

As is the case with any elderly musician still playing jazz actively, we tend to automatically add the phrase “for a **-year-old” to any discussion of that artist’s present abilities. The qualifier is intended to suggest that the artist, because nature takes its course on our minds and bodies, might be working with diminished chops, that the hands can no longer deliver what they once could or that the mind is no longer as sharp. We the listener may even condescendingly applaud the artist, knowing damn well that he or she really doesn’t possess the goods anymore.

With pianist Barbara Carroll the qualifier simply isn’t necessary. Yes, she is 86, with 65 years of professional experience, going back to a time when women had to work doubly hard to prove they could play jazz at all. But on How Long Has This Been Going On? , recorded live at Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in New York in 2010, Carroll’s ideas flow quickly, her execution is unblemished, her touch is alternately nimble and sensitive and her leadership is assured.

Working with the trio of Ken Peplowski (tenor saxophone, clarinet), Jay Leonhart (bass) and Alvin Atkinson (drums), Carroll is admittedly on safe ground here: The setlist is composed entirely of familiar standards save for two Carroll originals (one a blues) tucked in toward the end. Five of those-half of the album’s 10 tracks-are consecutive Gershwin numbers (the title track being the album’s only vocal); the others, including a roaring set-opener of “Change Partners,” come from the songbooks of Berlin, Bernstein and Rodgers and Hart.

But no matter: The performance speaks for itself, and were a listener to hear it with no foreknowledge of the artist’s vintage, there’d be no reason to assume that this vigorous, vital leader wasn’t at the onset of mid-career.

Jeff Tamarkin

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Jeff Tamarkin is the former editor of Goldmine, CMJ, Relix, and Global Rhythm. As a writer he has contributed to the New York Daily News, JazzTimes, Boston Phoenix, Harp, Mojo, Newsday, Billboard, and many other publications. He is the author of the book Got a Revolution: The Turbulent Flight of Jefferson Airplane and has contributed to The Guinness Companion to Popular Music, All Music Guide, and several other encyclopedias. He has also served as a consultant to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, NARAS, National Geographic Online, and Music Club Records.